For Nona Faustine the restitution of her sense of wholeness as an African American woman and artist manifests in the guise of a restoration of the past, emphasis on guise. Although we see her marching up the steps of City Hall in Manhattan with nothing on but her white Sunday shoes and a pair of shackles in her left hand…she is not really trying to restore anything. It took me a while to realize it.
Her on-going photography and installation project Reconstructions is precisely that – reconstructions that attempt to replace something that was lost in the history of Blacks in America. This should not be confused with an attempt to relive the past through reenactment. Faustine’s images are more are like markers that indicate a place, an institution, an event or a person so that with her presence on that spot she does not merely remember them for the sake of remembering, she rewrites a new history for them. There on the steps of City Hall’s Renaissance Revival facade that abuts a slave burial ground or standing on her soap box at the intersection of Water and Wall Streets where a market once trafficked in humans, she is the fearless daughter of them all, the new Venus of Willendorf reborn to reconstruct a history, the ultimate act of fecundity.
Faustine easily acknowledges the impossibility of getting at what is essential with this task she has set for herself, because to reconstruct a history is an altogether different action than to restore one. Hers is not an attempt to historicize the present but to re-write the past. She did the research, discovered who bought and sold black slaves in colonial New York, and where, and how they were transported in and out of the city. But there is no Aushwitz or Treblinka for the victims of slavery in America despite the common knowledge that an estimated 10-12 million Africans died in the Middle Passage alone, and countless others succumbed to starvation, physical abuse and disease once on these shores. In a way the images function as memorials that she makes herself, one at a time, with her body, the naked truth of its blackness braced against a cold city, reconstructing a narrative where the enslaved has dignity and is not afraid.
my friend at UK, Dr. Adam Banks, is hosting an highly academic forum in Chicago next spring that will focus on afrofuturism and its roll in digital communication (and vice-a-versa, i’d imagine) … he asked me to come up with a few concepts to run as promotional material for the event; this is my favorite so far, but sadly, it’s one he’s rejected so far in favor of a work still in progress. - he did say he might want to use this one for one of his own personal projects / if i dont beat him to it!
those well-versed in the history of American barbarism will recognize the artistic license taken with the image above, replacing the vicious scarification with vévé of Eshu Elegbara as constellation. it also owes a nod to the works of Bearden and Matisse. in future revisions, i think i’ll stylize his entire silhouette as a constellation and have it entirely white on black.
this is beautiful!
“A woman with Iron Horns and Bells on, to keep her from running away”
Source: Moses Roper, A narrative of the adventures and escape of Moses Roper from American slavery (London, 1837)
As shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.
Harriet Powers (1837-1910) was an African American slave and folk artist that would find recognition for her complicated quilt work. Sadly only two of her quilts survive today; they are her Bible Quilt (1886) and her Pictorial Quilt (1898) which can be found at the National Museum of American History and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, respectively. Her quilts would make their first public debut in 1886 at a cotton fair. Impressed by the work, a teacher at the Lucy Cobb Institute named Jennie Smith offered to buy Powers’s Bible Quilt; she refused to sell it but would after five years due to financial necessity. At the time of the sell, Powers explained the imagery on the quilt and Smith recorded their meaning. The origin of the second quilt is not as clear, but it is known to have been presented to the chairman of the board of trustees at Atlanta University in 1898. Her quilts are renowned for their rich storytelling and African and African American stylistic influences. Her figures are intricately stitched appliques and celestial bodies figure heavily in her work. Although we do have recordings of the meanings of her works, it is not known how much influence the recorders had on the meanings. It is possible that Powers originally intended to use her quilts as a way to teach Biblical stories despite being illiterate. In 2009 she would be inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement.
Cargo is the seventh in a series of inspired collaborations between two of South Africa’s most exciting movement theatre companies, Jazzart Dance Theatre and Magnet Theatre. It uses performance to re-imagine the archive of slavery in the Cape, bringing it to the attention of a wider audience while linking the past to our present reality.
Cudjoe Lewis is believed to be the last African born on African soil and brought to the United States by the transatlantic slave trade. He was a native of Takon, Benin, where he was captured in 1860 during an illegal slave-trading venture. Congress outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808. Together with more than a hundred other captured Africans, he was brought on the ship Clotilde to Mobile, Alabama. Cudjoe and 31 other enslaved Africans were taken to the property owned by Timothy Meaher, shipbuilder and owner of the Clotilde. 5 years later slavery was over so Cudjoe and his tribespeople requested to be taken back to Africa, but it was left ignored. He and other Africans established a community near Mobile, Alabama which became called Africatown. They maintained their African language and tribal customs well into the 1950s. He died in 1934 at the age of 94. Before he died, he gave several interviews on his experiences including one to the writer Zora Neale Hurston. During her interview in 1928, she made a short film of Cudjoe, the only moving image that exists in the Western Hemisphere of an African transported through the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Between Zora and Du Bois… seriously. They did everything I can only hope to be able to scratch the surface of doing.
Nothing I or you ever do will match this. Effing amazing.
Druella Jones or “Aunt Jonas,” Alabama, 1915
Essie Collins Matthews, Aunt Phebe, Uncle Tom and Others: Character Studies Among the Old Slaves of the South, Fifty Years After: illustrated from photographs made by the author in the cabins and on the plantations (Columbus, Ohio, 1915)
Photograph of ex-slave Jones at the age of 94. “She and two others were the only old slaves I found who were not loyal to their owners. During the [civil] war she tried to burn her master’s house” (Matthews).
as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.